Travel: Art and Bourbon Collide at Maker’s Mark Distillery
A three and a half hour straight shot down 71, and we’re not in Ohio anymore, y’all. (Shout out to the Florence Y’all water tower on 71). You’re in bourbon country.
Home to iconic baseball bats and the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” the quick drive to Louisville makes it ideal for a weekend getaway. This trip did not feature Sluggers or horses, but did center around another the other thing the city is known for: bourbon.
Start with the Tacos
After that drive you’ll be hungry. Spare the fast food and wait for the tacos. Specifically, El Taco Luchador.
Get the sweet potato fries. Why does a taco joint have sweet potato fries? Smoked pineapple sauce. That’s why. Save what you don’t slather on the fries and introduce it to the tacos – which were equally as delectable. At $3.25 to $4 a shell, two make a meal. We sampled the vegetarian, piled high enough to warrant filing another shell, the al pastor, the carnitas and the crowd favorite – the carne asada.
The Baxter Avenue joint is tucked between a number of other local shops and bars, reminiscent of Short North. If you need extra confirmation that this place is the real deal: even at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday, the line stretched to the back of the door.
Here Comes the Bourbon
It would be practically sacrilegious to go to Kentucky and not drink some bourbon, and the main objective for this weekend road trip was to adventure to Maker’s Mark. Louisville is a generous location for the distillery with tinier towns dotting the hour plus drive from Downtown to the the Maker’s Mark Campus.
The drive deserves an explanation all its own. First, update your GPS. These drivers were up against a seven-year outdated GPS which, after missing an exit on the interstate, took us over an imaginary bridge and cut down our drive time by 10 minutes. Also, be prepared to lose cell service. Verizon went kaput a few miles from the distillery. There will be moments where it feels like the beginnings of a horror movie. There will be one-lane roads. But, it’s a beautiful drive with rolling hills, and likely soon, some fire-colored fall foliage.
It’s safe to assume you’re headed in the right direction once you hit Maker’s Mark Lane. It also becomes apparent it’s worth the drive.
While the quaint buildings with red shutters that features cutouts in the distinctive shape of a Maker’s Mark bottle are picturesque any day of the year, there’s a little something extra that’s been adoring the grounds this summer and fall. Chihuly at Maker’s turns the campus into an art gallery for iconic glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Columbusites are generally no stranger to Chihuly’s work, with permanent exhibits at the Franklin Park Conservatory and the Columbus Museum of Art. And – some of the pieces will seem familiar, but context is everything.
A ceiling of hundreds of colorful sculptures (Spirit of the Maker) illuminates the barrel-filled walkway to the gift shop. The Cellar, a barrel-aging facility for Maker’s 46® carved directly into a limestone hillside on the distillery’s grounds, provides the backdrop for one of the most striking works: Red Baskets. Five ruby red glass sculptures bring a transfixing pop of color to an otherwise muted room.
What looks striking during the daytime becomes fascinating at night. While much of Chihuly’s work sees flaming reds, oranges and yellows, at night time the blue and white of the Sapphire and Platinum Waterdrop Tower casts a cool, icy glow. A rolling trail of 157 glass Red Reeds sprouts from the ground, illuminating the walkway to the entrance.
There are multiple options for getting your glass-and-bourbon fix.
Traditional: grab a tour ticket during regularly scheduled tour hours to check out the exhibit through December 3.
Immersive: Chihuly Nights, which runs every Saturday through November 25. The dusky evening hours of 6 – 10 p.m. provide the ideal way to experience the sculptures: one pass during the day, enjoy a Maker’s Mark cocktail, then another look at night.
If you’re the type to want food with your bourbon, spring for ultimate experience: Dinner at Chihuly Nights, running select Saturdays during the experience.
In April, the distillery added its own fast-casual restaurant: Star Hill Provisions. Serving up a daytime menu featuring soups, salads and sandwiches, nighttime brings a three-course menu from Chef Newman Miller, paired with cocktails.
The menu for dinner at Chihuly Nights changes weekly at the Chef’s whim based on the best ingredients available. A rundown of the night’s fare at the beginning of the family-style dinner clues diners into the seasonality of the cooking: course one featured mushrooms sourced just three miles from the distillery.
And when it comes to cocktails, there was a little something to appease every palate. For the adventurous drinker, course one was paired with a concoction of cold brew concentrate, Mexican Coke, lemon and Maker’s Mark Original. For the traditionalist, the main course was washed down with an Old Fashioned with the bite of cask-strength bourbon. And finally, for the purist, desert in liquid form with a pour of the Chef’s own Private Select Maker’s Mark.
And because we’re all responsible adults: you will be drinking full-sized cocktails. Enjoy your meal, drink some water and explore the grounds before hitting the road. It’s the ideal time to swing through the gift shop. Among all the things you didn’t know a distillery could brand, there are chocolate truffles. Get those. Try not to eat them all on the drive back.
An experience also awaits. You know Maker’s Mark by its signature red wax, and for the price of a bottle and some stylish protective gear – you can dip your very own. After strict instruction, and ten whole seconds I was unabashedly too excited about, I had a bottle I was told looked very similar to the perfect drips off the line.
If You’re Still Feeling Arty…
The theme for this Louisville adventure became bourbon and art. Post-Chihuly, a stroll through the 21C Museum Hotel yielded some entirely different forms of art. The boutique hotel chain with locations across the country provides rooms of unique exhibits that are free and open to the public 365 days a year. Make a stop in front of Text Rain for an entertaining and Instagram-worthy exercise in balancing letters on your person.
A Weekend is Not Complete Without Brunch
May I introduce Harvest: Louisville-style. The southern city has its own version of Harvest, and it has nothin’ to do with pizza. Instead, the back wall of the eatery is dedicated to a giant map, pinpointing the farm-to-table eats it serves to hungry patrons. (The website says 80 percent of its ingredients come from within 100 miles.)
Southern influence makes many appearances on the brunch menu, including grits, black eye peas and Burgoo – a spicy stew featuring a variety of proteins. There’s also the Big Ol’ Biscuit and Gravy. That’s right, biscuit. Singular. The lone flaky pastry occupies the better part of the bowl it’s served in, and is a feat to finish. The smoked pork belly on a pretzel croissant was less successful, but a side of “smashie” provided a multi-potato twist to a traditional breakfast accompaniment.
There’s one popular Kentucky dish we apparently missed: beer cheese. A quick Google search reveals entire articles dedicated finding the best in the city. A debate rages between hot and cold varieties. But, that’s a taste-test for next time.
All photos by Susan Post.
NOTE: This trip was made possible by our friends at Maker’s Mark, who provided Columbus Underground with hotel accommodations and tickets to Chihuly Nights.